Fiona McCade: Dangerous drivers need more than talk

Police can give advice to drivers ' but they can prosecute them too. Picture: David Moir
Police can give advice to drivers ' but they can prosecute them too. Picture: David Moir
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Scotland’s top police officer wants to have a ‘national conversation’ – but the lunatic motorists out there will not be listening, writes Fiona McCade

The only time I’ve ever been stopped by the police was near Murrayfield stadium. I was supposed to be picking up my husband from the rugby, but there was a diversion and I couldn’t get to the street where we’d agreed to meet. There were thousands of people on the pavements and in the road, so I pulled over and quickly called his mobile.

As I did so, a face appeared at my passenger window. It was the fuzz, who lectured me about using my phone while in charge of a motor vehicle. Apparently, since the engine was still running, I was a borderline criminal. So, the officer spent time berating me, despite the fact that my handbrake was on, I wasn’t in anybody’s way and I could clearly see a bloke not 20 yards away, relieving himself in someone’s nicely-clipped privet hedge.

I didn’t argue. However unwarranted I thought the situation was, it was only a warning. Nobody was threatening to clap me in irons and cart me off in the Black Maria. But you know, if I had actually been motoring along, chatting away on my mobile, that would have been a fair cop, wouldn’t it?

Scotland’s Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House, is demanding a “national conversation” about bad driving and says: “We want people stopped.

“We don’t necessarily want them prosecuted, but we want them stopped if their driving merits it.”

I’m delighted Sir Stephen is finally tackling this problem, but I wish he hadn’t said: “We don’t necessarily want them prosecuted.” Oh, please, prosecute away. Do whatever you can to get these people off the road.

He went on to say: “We want to give out as much advice as prosecutions, to try to alert drivers about what they are doing.”

Sir Stephen wants the police to become educators, to pull people over just after they have done a dangerous manoeuvre and talk it through with them.

I see the logic and I see that Sir Stephen does not want to demonise his force, but I wonder if the softly, softly approach will work, given that there are so many lunatics out there.

I know, I know, nobody ever thinks that they are the lunatic. It’s always someone else. However, in my experience, it always has been someone else.

I’ve done some stupid things, and I cringe when I think how I drove just after passing my test (30 years ago, when there was no theory test and nobody taught parallel parking; I actually gathered a crowd the first time I tried to do it).

However, I grew up, improved vastly, and now I have my baby on board, I’m more risk-averse than ever.

Still, I’ve been totally wiped off the road three times in my life and it scared the hell out of me. And each time, the driver who caused the accident did so because they simply didn’t care enough that they were gambling with other people’s safety – and lives.

The first guy wrote off three cars, including mine, because he thought he could make a call on his mobile and take a third-gear bend in fifth, both at the same time. I saw him, still chatting away on his phone, as they were loading me and the others on to the ambulances. He didn’t care what the police said to him.

The second one nearly killed me as I was waiting at a stop sign. I saw he was signalling left, to turn into the road beside me, but he was going so fast, I thought he must have accidentally left his indicator on. So I waited to see what he would do. He ploughed right into me, because he hadn’t realised that you have to slow down when you turn. The very next day I saw him merrily driving around – in the same, damaged vehicle that had destroyed mine – apparently unaffected, while I was left a jibbering, car-less wreck. The police weren’t interested.

The last of my nemeses ignored a give way sign, and crashed straight into my driver’s door, so I was trapped in my car. He scarpered before the police arrived, but to cut a long story short, it turned out he wasn’t insured. When I called the station to suggest that the red-hot poker treatment would be too gentle for him, the officer said to me: “Boys will be boys”.

Don’t worry, I know that women cause accidents too. I have a friend whom I regularly pass on the road. I see her, but she never sees me, because she’s always looking at her phone. I’ve begged her to sort out her priorities, but to no avail. Will a telling-off from the police change her mind? If the thought of risking her young children’s lives doesn’t deter her, I wonder what will.

So, you see why I feel quite strongly that dangerous drivers should be given slightly more than a good talking-to.

Dangerous drivers can kill. If you’re in charge of a ton of metal and, for whatever reason, you fail to control it, you deserve more than re-educating. You deserve more than a roadside rap on the knuckles.

I believe that dangerous driving is a choice, and therefore should be treated as the serious crime it is. Causing death by dangerous driving is homicide.

Unfortunately, in practice, the law seems to see it as just a bit of a blunder, and the sort of sentences currently handed out to perpetrators are a joke.

Whatever happens to these people after they have committed their crimes, at the very least they should never, ever be allowed behind a wheel again.

Talking is good; prosecuting is good. Anything we can do together to solve this problem is good. Because, in the words of Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone: “[This financial year] around 200 people will die on the roads in Scotland. We are on 106 already and we haven’t had winter yet.”